Last week I told you how our second born child was born in the base hospital on Hill AFB, Utah, was diagnosed with E-coli spinal meningitis a few days afterward, was evacuated to Salt Lake City General Hospital, was immediately given the very best of care for a deadly disease, and was back home safe and sound after two long months, something Lolly and I have been grateful for ever since.
A few days after the return from what could easily have been a fatal illness, I was talking to my boss there on Hill AFB, an experienced old NCO who always struck me as a pillar of wisdom. I was telling him how grateful and happy we both were, when he mentioned something to me that I had never thought about, something that genuinely caused me to think.
“You know, Tom,” he said, “there’s one reason I have enjoyed my 30 years in uniform. There are always going to be rough spots in military life, but there’s one thing you can always be sure of: We take care of each other. Did you know that the base spent over $25,000 on that baby of yours by contracting its care with the Salt Lake hospital?”
No, I didn’t know that; and little did he know what an effect those words had on me.
You see, my first three-year hitch in Air Force blue came when I enlisted in an Air National Guard outfit when North Korea attacked South Korea. At the end of those three years I returned home to New London, and went back to work in the chain store where I had been employed. Incredibly enough, just two years later I had worked my way up to the position of assistant manager, and they were digging the foundation of a new store that was to be mine.
I enjoyed my work in that chain. The man who had founded it back in 1933 during the very depths of the Depression taught us that success or failure depended not on salesmanship, but on treating each customer in an honest and caring manner, one that brought people back. I liked that attitude, and was devoted to it, which was probably why I had risen so fast that I was headed for a manager’s position, and set for life at age 23.
However, there had been something special about that blue uniform I wore for three years, a sense of shared responsibility that made it very special indeed. It is called Esprit de corps: That which welds individuals into a single unit devoted to a cause.
The result? Thinking about that, I reenlisted, went back in uniform, served both in the U.S. and overseas, found Lolly, and came to know that there is something even greater than a strong sense of duty, namely the love between a man and woman. As a result, after Lolly and I came home to the U.S. I decided to return to civilian life, where I could be a husband and father first, and only secondly part of anything else. For that reason, we had decided, as sad as it made us feel, that our years at Hill AFB, after which my enlistment was due to expire, would be our last Air Force years.
However, with nothing else to give to the Air Force in gratitude for what it had done for our tiny newborn, and us I stayed in 10 more years until it came time to retire.
As little as it may have been, it was all we had to give.